RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — It’s the time of year when many of us head to the mountains to see the fall colors. Don’t be surprised if, along with changing leaves, you see bears.  Wildlife officials have a warning: keep your distance and keep your food to yourself.

“The mountains of North Carolina really are bear country; there are a lot of bears out there,” noted Falyn Owens, the Extension Wildlife Biologist with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.

She added that bears generally aren’t interested in people, but they are interested in food. “They’re very, very heavily food motivated, so the biggest important thing that people can know is don’t let bears get ahold of food,” said Owens.

 Wildlife officials say people should never feed bears and should take care to make sure food is out of their reach. “It’s really important for bear safety and human safety to make sure bears don’t want to approach us for food sources,” Owens noted. “When bears are actively going into neighborhoods because they know that they can find easy foods, there that increases the chance that bears and cars are going to collide.”

If you do come across a bear, Owens says you should keep your distance. “They’re not really interested in interacting with us,” Owens explained. “Certainly if the bear is looking at you and its behavior is changing because of how close you are you want to back up.”

Back up, but don’t run. “With any wild animal, you never want to run away from it because that could make them curious and interested in following you,” Owens added. “Just kind of back up slowly and put distance between you and the bear.”

With plenty of space, she says it’s okay to enjoy the view. 

“Never approach it. Admire it from a safe distance,” she urged. “They’re really cool animals.”

To find out more, about how to keep people and bears safe, click here.